While men’s basketball coach John Chaney’s teams have always been known for their stellar guards and menacing match-up zone, the most important role Chaney has filled in his tenure here at Temple is as a father figure. Whether developing his teams into NCAA Tournament contenders or chasing down records, he first and foremost makes sure the student-athletes leave school as productive members of society.
Even with Chaney’s emphasis on giving chances to underprivileged youth, his program has not been attracting blue-chip recruits. Five a.m. practices ensure players’ academic schedules are not interrupted, but they don’t exactly spark the interest of the nation’s top young players. In recent years, Chaney has left most of the recruiting up to assistant coach Dan Leibovitz.
This past summer, however, Chaney visited Los Angeles to recruit Matt Shaw, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound center/forward for Fairfax, California’s top high school prep team. According to Shaw’s coach, Harvey Kitani, Chaney presented an opportunity no other school gave him.
“Matt was able to see that [Chaney] is a good man,” Kitani said in a phone interview. “Matt knows and understands the position that has been offered to him. He wants to become a man.”
While some have branded Temple as a big man’s graveyard, Kitani thinks that Shaw will fit nicely into Chaney’s system. He compared Shaw to Boston College’s Craig Smith.
“Matt has the potential to help offensively,” Katani said. “He is going to develop physically and mentally, and he is developing a strong game inside and outside. Coach Chaney’s teams play to [Shaw’s] strengths.”
Shaw and two other recruits last week inked letters of intent to Temple in the early signing period. Luis Guzman, a 6-2 guard from Paramus, N.J., and Mike Scott, a 6-7 forward from Chesapeake, Va., join Shaw as the Owls’ class of 2010. Both Guzman and Scott’s coaches said the players will be in the right hands to become the men Chaney guides all his players to be.
“Luis has always respected the wisdom of his elders,” said Tony Campbell, Guzman’s high school coach. “It’s going to be interesting to see how he grows on and off the court.”
Campbell, like Kitani, said Guzman is a great fit for the style Chaney likes to play.
“Our practices feature a lot of conditioning,” Campbell said. “Also, we have a variety of schemes, offensive and defensive, that are run in college and the NBA, and Luis has done well in them. Coach Chaney’s style catered to him, and that was a factor as to why he chose Temple.”
Tony Ricks, Scott’s coach, said Scott was recruited by such schools as La Salle, Clemson and South Carolina, and will help contribute to the Owls immediately.
“He is going to create mismatches at his position with his ball-handling abilities,” Ricks said. “If you put a forward on him, he is going to be able to drive. If you put an undersized guard on him, he is going to be able to post them up.”
However, Xs and Os were not the deciding factor for Scott, Ricks said.
“Coach gave us a fatherly feel, a real sense of comfort and honesty,” Ricks said. “A lot of programs have all this flash. They give you a sense that it’s too good to be true, and that can win you over easy. But [Chaney] just gave Mike a sense of trust.”
That “fatherly feel” could be felt last Tuesday, as Chaney’s players embraced the 73-year-old icon after beating Army for his 500th win at Temple. The hugs and kisses (yes, kisses) showed he reaches today’s youth, despite being more than 50 years their elder.
Though the majority of his days may be behind him, Chaney has never lost focus of what really matters. The impact he continues to have on Temple basketball players is something that will be remembered long after records are done being broken.
Greg Otto can be reached at email@example.com.